• Podcast with Newsy journalist Mark Greenblatt: People are afraid to talk about what happened
Newsy website reports that sommelier cheating scandal may be part of more extensive problems at Court of Master Sommeliers
Remember last year’s sommelier cheating scandal, which grabbed the cyber-headlines and then mysteriously disappeared? The Newsy website reports that the scandal may be part of larger problems at the organization that oversees the master sommelier program.
“[S]everal current master sommeliers are going public for the first time by speaking to Newsy,” reports the website. “They have grown concerned about more ‘systemic’ problems plaguing the Court of Master Sommeliers, the nonprofit governing body that administers the group’s exams.”
The report – you can watch it in the video at the top of the post or read the transcript – outlines what appears to be an attempt to stonewall outsiders from finding out exactly what happened. All we know is that someone gave the list of wines for the blind tasting portion of the test to at least one candidate, the results were then invalidated, and the sommelier group said all else was fine.
Since then, the court has revised its code of ethics to include a provision that would punish master sommeliers who criticized the organization: Newsy reports that the new code “warned of ‘disciplinary action’ for ‘any action or utterance’ by a master sommelier that ‘could be construed as detrimental’ to the Court’s good name.’ ”
Says one master sommelier in the report: “I took that as, you know, ‘Be quiet. Don’t question our authority or we’ll kick you out. There are some fundamental things that are wrong.”
None of this is surprising. I made a few phone calls in the aftermath of the scandal, and couldn’t even get anyone to talk off the record. They didn’t want to talk at all; as one well-known master sommelier told me, “I advised them to go public, and they ignored me. It’s their problem now.”
The reason for the group’s behavior is not surprising: money and power. As I wrote last year, “Sommelier-ing has become an industry in and of itself – movies, even. Sommeliers are the current rock stars of the wine business, perhaps even more quoted and revered than the celebrity winemakers who used to dominate the discussion.”
But the minute it looks like those MS initials are worthless, all of that collapses. So the court, according to the Newsy report, has done all it can to make sure no one finds out exactly what happened. And, if anyone does find out, to punish them for telling the rest of us.
It’s also not surprising that a Mainstream Media outlet had to pursue the story. There’s little incentive for the Winestream Media to follow up on the scandal. It has almost as much invested in turning sommeliers into rock stars as the sommeliers do. Who do you think put all these people on a pedestal in the first place?
This week’s wine news: Ron Washam puts the sommelier scandal in focus, plus more on why wine scores don’t work and yet another examination of sparkling wine glasses
• “Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business:” Ron Washam, writing on Tim Atkin’s website, offers some much needed perspective on last fall’s sommelier scandal, in which a then-sommelier apparently gave a list of the wines to be used for the blind tasting portion of the master sommelier exam to one of the candidates. “The wine world moves on,” he writes, “unconcerned with ethics and truth, as well it should. Ethics and truth are Roundup for the wine business. You don’t want to use them liberally, or at all, they pretty much destroy the ecosystem.” As Washam notes, the Court of Master Sommeliers has brushed the scandal under the rug, and sommeliers remain wine royalty. Is it any wonder that I worry about the future of the wine business?
• No more scores: Ian Cauble, writing in the Robb Report, hits scores firmly up the side of the head: “A high score doesn’t always mean the wine is excellent. …” he says, and then explains why. In this, his is one more voice trying to free us from the tyranny of 92 points. “Don’t assume the score tacked onto a shelf is Holy Writ,” he writes. “Drink and acquire what you like. Above all, remember that wine is about the land, the people who make it, and the friends with whom you enjoy it. A single score never defines the full story.” I could not have said that better myself, and I have been trying for almost 20 years.
• Put it in the glass: Christopher Walkey, writing for Glass of Bubbly, dissects sparkling wine glasses in all their shapes and sizes. In fact, there’s even a photo of seven kinds of glasses – just looking at it made my head hurt. The reason for the article is the past several years worth of carping about which glass best serves sparkling wine and Champagne. Which, to Ron Washam’s point, says a lot about what the wine business considers to be important.
This week’s wine news: A conspiracy theory takes shape around the sommelier scandal, plus we’re stuck with another Yellow Tail Super Bowl ad and I’ve been offered a chance to run adult content on the blog
• Conspiracy theory? Liza Zimmerman, writing for Forbes, quotes one observer as wondering if a distributor conspiracy was behind last month’s sommelier cheating scandal. He doubted if “this was really the first time such a thing has occurred during the exam. He shared his suspicions that the wholesale tier’s influence on the Court is growing and noted that wholesalers who mentor favorite sommeliers think that they may be able to curry favor with them later on.” That’s an interesting theory, that sommeliers who work for distributors were helping candidates cheat so the cheaters would be beholden to distributors. But even those of us who think distributors are much of what’s wrong with the business aren’t sure that they’re quite that bad.
• Oh, the horror: Yellow Tail, not content with its sad and much disliked Super Bowl TV ad, is going to do it again in 2019. The Australian wine company, reports Shanken News Daily, has issued a call for wine drinkers to send their Yellow Tail videos to the company to be used in the 2019 ad. I shudder at the possibilities, though the one good thing is that we probably won’t have to suffer through the Roo again.
• Adult content: A marketing company in Gibraltar wants to “to buy a guest post on your website for our adult website guide. Rest assured, we can use both explicit and non-explicit keywords, which ever you prefer.” I won’t link to the company, whose clients include a company called YouPorn as well as Sony Music and Netflix. Obviously, I told them no, but I’ve been wondering ever since what they saw in my metrics to make the offer. What’s the relationship between wine drinkers and porn?